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Florida Theater Renovations A Bright Spot In Limited Music Venue Options

The historic downtown Gainesville music venue known as The Florida Theater is under renovation and will soon reopen its doors under a much simpler name: The Venue.

Located at 233 W. University Ave., the building has been leased out and renamed multiple times since first opening as The Florida Theatre on Sept. 10, 1928. Previous names include The Great Southern Music Hall, The Palace, Element Night Club and Forum.

Since the building has been closed following its last show, DJ Carnage on Jan. 19, Gainesville has seen a decline in concerts, and many are eager to see its doors open once again.

Casey Dickens, the building's new manager, said he is currently “playing the waiting game” with the landlord over fire code repairs but should be ready to open the building soon. He hopes a consistently fun atmosphere and high-quality entertainment will keep the doors open this time around.

“I want the people that are here in Gainesville for the next four years, or six years or eight years, or however long you’re here, to remember this place,” Dickens said. “I remember when I was in college and I went to The Florida Theater, and I saw this band or this show and it was awesome, and that’s what I’m after. I’m after the epic event.”

The interior of the building is getting brand-new carpet, paint, lighting, sound equipment and more. A new VIP area in the main room is in the works, and the bathrooms, which Dickens said haven’t been updated in about 12 years, are getting a much-needed improvement.

“I think it’s going to open just at the right time,” Dickens said. “It’s just enough to give people a taste of ‘Hey, The Venue is back, and it’s new’ before spring rolls around and everyone knows it’s the place to party.”

With a spacious main room and a descending, amphitheater-like floor plan, few other venues in Gainesville can match the building’s capacity for large-scale shows, and its absence has been felt.

“Lack of venues is killing Gainesville at the moment,” said Antonio Mercado, owner of The Dynasty Group, a Gainesville promotional company. “Another viable music venue in Gainesville would make a world of difference.”

Last fall, Gainesville hosted more than 10 large concerts from prominent DJs, such as Flux Pavilion, TJR and Markus Schulz, but this fall, only three big-ticket shows have been scheduled.

Two of them, Dada Life and Benny Benassi, were held at Level Nightclub, located across the street from the Florida Theater building. The third, the Electro Chemical Show featuring co-headliners Audien and Cazzette on Oct. 24, was originally booked for University Air Center in Gainesville before relocating to Level due to venue restrictions.

“We absolutely had to either divert or cancel shows altogether due to Florida Theater being closed,” Mercado said. He openly expressed his dislike for Level, calling it "barely adequate for shows."

Level was the planned venue for Excision, a prominent DJ from Canada, on Feb. 26 until it was canceled after the artist arrived and saw the building.

Excision took to Facebook to explain the cancellation, claiming the building had no power, recent troubles with the fire marshal and sound ordinance complaints.

Excision performed in Gainesville about seven months earlier in The Florida Theater building on July 3, 2013 without any issues.

Jason Rubel, a local DJ, promoter and Grooveshark employee, has seen many venues in Gainesville come and go and knows how much of a difference having a venue like The Florida Theater building would make.

“There’s a lot of good things coming in the future, so hopefully, The Florida Theater can stay a part of that and help keep the culture of music alive here,” Rubel said. “If you have a big venue like that, you can have that as your ultimate venue, and then the other venues can benefit from having smaller shows.”

Jay is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.